Monday, 7 April 2008

Got a brain, Jim? Then you don't need Brain Gym!

I was reading Charlie Brooker's excellent column in The Guardian and was disappointed to learn that our educational system, underfunded though it is, seems to have bought into the wave of pseudo-scientific nonsense that is washing over us and is paying good money for something called "Brain Gym".

You can view the official "Brain Gym" website here. Even from the first page, it starts looking more than a little suspicious. Look at this quote for example, which surely won't fill you with confidence that the tax money being put into Brain Gym is well spent:

"the UK Educational Kinesiology Trust, makes no claims to understand the neuroscience of Brain Gym®"

...we don't understand it, but lets make it part of our childrens' education anyway shall we? What's the worst that can happen?

Well, one of the many downsides will be that it will make it harder for the next generation to tell genuine science from pseudo-science...it will leave them vulnerable to all kinds of evidence-free claptrap from homeopathy through crystal healing to Young Earth Creationism.

The basic principle behind Brain Gym is that movement can aid learning. Which may well be true to some extent. Afterall, if we don't move, we will end up looking like Jabba the Hutt, and our withered arms will be too weak to lift books over our bloated bellies. What Brain Gym sells is a very specific set of movements which, supposedly, have specific positive effects on our learning abilities.

The Guardian's Ben Goldacre has published several articles highlighting the lack of genuine scientific evidence behind Brain Gym in the Bad Science column. Here's one of them.

The official Brain Gym page links to several pages of somewhat dubious looking research results, including this one.

Not only does the web designer deserve an eternity of having to stare at a constant slideshow of the most garish websites from the mid nineties (you know the ones, they had textured backgrounds, flashing scrolling text and usually a badly made animated GIF of a postbox for the "email me" link). but the research itself looks like a GCSE students first Science Report.

Ben Goldacre did some research through genuine research databases, and unsurprisingly found nothing to support Brain Gym's claims.

The Brain Gym material includes lots of those terms that pseudoscience loves to bandy around, energy flowbeing a particular favourite (a variation on the "life energy" theme I've ranted on before) - one of the excercises supposedly increases the flow of "electromagnetic energy", as if that's a good thing in itself....which it isn't.

For example. vigorously sand-papering your face will also increase the "flow" of electromagnetic energy, as all those nerve endings send their electro-chemical pain reports on to your brain. There's no holistic, mysterious New Age energy flow that needs "balancing".

One of the excercises incorporated into the Brain Gym "workout" consists of massaging the muscles in your own jaw...they call this the "energy yawn". Yet another misleadingly "New Age" reference to energy methinks!

One of the claims made in the Brain Gym material is not only bizarre, but obviously false:
"processed foods do not contain water"
.....what?! Lots of processed foods certainly DO contain water...but in any case what does this have to do with doing funny movements to improve your learning?

All this talk of funny movements and pseudo-scientific language might not be enough to convey the full madness of Brain Gym, so I'll end this post with a link to a video where you can see it for yourself...remember kids...Just Say No!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5rH7kDcFpc

The only movement Brain Gym has got me doing is repeatedly smacking my forehead with my knuckles...I'm sure it has increased the flow of blood to my brain though.

But that doesn't mean I can learn faster now, it's just part of the bruising process.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Some of the Brain Gym exercises are loosely based on ocupational therapy movements and physical therapy movements. Are you saying that occupational therapy and physical therapy do not have real science to back them up? I think not! I know children who are in occupational therapy and who do movements similar to those in Brain Gym. These are children who have been recommend by a doctor to go to OT. OT is about helping people use their senses more efficiently so they can integrate informaton better. I asked about Brain Gym to one of these therapist and she recommended that I do with my class!

Anonymous said...

Some of the Brain Gym exercises are loosely based on ocupational therapy movements and physical therapy movements. Are you saying that occupational therapy and physical therapy do not have real science to back them up? I think not! I know children who are in occupational therapy and who do movements similar to those in Brain Gym. These are children who have been recommend by a doctor to go to OT. OT is about helping people use their senses more efficiently so they can integrate informaton better. I asked about Brain Gym to one of these therapist and she recommended that I do with my class!

Alltruism said...

I'm not saying physical therapy doesn't have real science behind it.

Brain Gym is as you say only "loosely based" on that, and more strongly based on pseudoscience.

Brain Gym is NOT genuine occupational therapy and is NOT genuine physical therapy.

And both of these are used for specific purposes.

I suggest you go back to the therapist that recommended it and ask them to explain why any school should pay for the Brain Gym materials (which include the assertion that "processed foods do not contain water", as well as incorrect statements about energy) instead of opting for genuine fact-based occupational therapy if that could be beneficial to the children involved.

Anything that presents ridiculous statements like "processed foods do not contain water" as fact should be kept well away from the education of our children!

Ashley Beethoven said...

Ok. Seriously. Why do people make such a big deal out of it. Brain Gym is notttt realllll! People, get over it! You just use it as a placebo and kids start to believe it. Lying is not good ya know. Jus' sayin'. That's my full out opinion.

Thanks for bothering to read. :)

alltruism said...

It's pseudoscience. And we shouldn't waste money on that :)